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Schoolgirl Arlene was failed by police, inquest is told

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 11/05/2016

Critical: Norman Baxter yesterday
Critical: Norman Baxter yesterday

Schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson was a forgotten victim who was failed by the State, a former high profile detective has told her inquest.

In a stinging attack on the police hierarchy, retired chief superintendent Norman Baxter said the prime suspect could have been charged with murder years earlier.

He told Belfast Coroners Court: "She was a forgotten victim and that's quite a terrible thing."

Mr Baxter was brought on to the Arkinson inquiry in March 2002 and despite not having any new evidence, decided within a few months to pursue the paedophile Robert Howard.

He said the investigation had been in a "vague" status - neither active nor closed - adding: "It was in the ether."

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, disappeared in August 1994 after a night out at a disco across the border in Co Donegal.

The teenager, who had a troubled background, was last seen being driven off late at night by Howard. Her body has never been found.

Howard was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his previous conviction for murdering teenager Hannah Williams, whose body was found in Kent in March 2002.

Mr Baxter said he believed the dysfunctional Arkinson family were not seen as a priority for police between 1994 and 2002.

"I think the Arkinson family were seen as people who had no standing and therefore society did not bother with them and therefore she was not of importance and not a priority," he said.

"I think it is a terrible case that a 15-year-old just vanishes and after a period of statutory obligation you park it and move on."

The decision to charge Howard with murder, in May 2002, was made while he was in Belmarsh Prison on suspicion of killing Hannah Williams.

Although there was nothing new evidentially, Mr Baxter's approach differed from previous investigators who believed that a prosecution could not go ahead without a body.

He added: "Robert Howard could have been charged years earlier, if there was a recognition that this was a family and this was a victim."

"If proper steps had been taken in 1994 then Hannah Williams would be alive, potentially."

Howard was described as a "menace", able to roam across the UK and Ireland committing horrendous, depraved offences.

While some officers believed passionately that he had to be stopped, they were "lone voices in the system", according Mr Baxter. There were failures across a range of responsibilities and the State was "ineffective" in dealing with him, he added.

Meanwhile, the court also heard of the animosity that existed between some police and members of the Arkinson family who were perceived as pests and troublemakers.

"All they were trying to get was some resolution," said Mr Baxter.

The hearing was adjourned until next Monday.

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